February 24, 2010

Wilderness Gifts

We should not be so quick to assume that Jesus' well-attested foray in the wilderness was torturous, and only that. That "blessing is ease and ease signals blessing" is our well-packaged religious assumption, not his. Fierce temptations notwithstanding, there is -- I will argue -- a certain gift of landscaped clarity out in the wilderness space. The barren ground, the long sheet of cracked earth, the absence of cacophonous voices -- the wilderness has a way of subduing the storm of competing demands.  Such a blanket of immense quiet stills even the most internal of voices.  The stillness is only threat if one has come to worship the noise.  Otherwise, there is new space here.  God's flaming wind has room to blow.

In that sense, then -- and since we so rarely have control over our arrival in them -- we should learn to work with the rugged spaces rather than against them.  What is this time about? What is the space working to signal? Where is the Sunday rising?

One matter is for certain: He who sojourned there sojourns now.

February 3, 2010


Mary, Mary … how does your garden grow?

Aware of the agrarian setting in which he lived, Jesus was quite fond of agricultural metaphors. For those of you who farm or garden, this serves to make a reality as foreign to us as the “kingdom of God” an easier realm to imagine. Jesus: God’s movement among us is like a tiny mustard seed (Matt 13), like something hidden in a field (13), like a liberal vineyard owner (20), or like someone who sows seed and is subsequently shocked by the result (Mark 4). “The seed sown in the ground soon sprouts up and grows, but the sower does not how.”

As in gardening, so it is with the kingdom: There is our planning and tending work to be done, yes. But in the end, at harvest time, the flowers that bloom and the fruit that grows are not the result of silver bells, cockle shells, or any such ascertainable concoction. New life is a stupendous mystery—a delightful gift from a giving Easter-God.

I’m grateful to be a seed-sower among you in this time -- scattering good kernel, tending to planted rows, and trenching for hydration. I rejoice in the news that

1. I do not do this work alone, but share it with officers, staff, and leaders both official and unofficial.

2. The locus of my particular work is with scripture and sacraments, both of which bloom best chiefly in Lord’s Day worship—my favorite venue for ministry.

3. In the end, the fruitfulness of said sowing is not in any of our the hands. As one of your elders recently remarked, “God does not call us to achieve, only to be faithful. Achievement is up to God.” When life springs forth among us, it is always the good gift of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Planter, Bloom, and Growth.

Church, church … how is God’s garden growing?

The old Scottish Presbyterians liked to call those elders other than the pastor “Ruling Elders.” The title was not intended to bespeak authoritarianism, but rather measurement. How do we measure up to the comfort and challenge of the gospel? How are we growing as a people of God? How do we compare, standing next to this Jesus who looms so tall among us? In 2010 your elders are reflecting on our ministry of provision: providing for our common growth by providing the seeds, planting, and irrigation of ministry. Scripture, sacraments, worship, prayer, service, fellowship, leadership, service—these and many others seeds are what we hope to sow liberally in our congregation in the coming year.

May our wonderment be that of the sower in Mark 4:27. Seeds go down, time passes along, and by God’s good provision fresh fruit springs forth among us.